Resource Spotlight: Mass Innovation Nights

Oct 2, 2016

Resource Spotlight: Mass Innovation Nights

Oct 2, 2016

This week we talk with Bobbie Carlton, founder of Innovation Nights. Bobbie tells us all about what Innovation Nights entail, and how they empower the startup community in Boston – and now beyond!

GH: What is your name and role?

BC: Hi, I’m Bobbie Carlton. I’m one of the founders of Innovation Nights. (I also founded Innovation Women and Carlton PR & Marketing.) I’m generally known as the face of Mass Innovation Nights (MIN) but the reality is that there is a big team of MIN-ions who help make Mass Innovation Nights possible — everyone from Kristen Avini, our events director, to our awesome volunteers and the entire staff of Carlton PR & Marketing who help out every month. We also have great sponsors and hosts who welcome our events into their locations, and experts who support the events, manning the tables at every event and offering advice for entrepreneurs and startups. Speaking of which, where would we be without all the companies who launch cool new products with us? My primary role? I run the timer during the pitch portion of our events and glower at people when they run over.

(I also launched Innovation Women, a speaker bureau for entrepreneurial, technical and innovative women.  The goal is to get more women on stage at events and conferences, especially technical conferences where the lack of diversity can lead to some pretty boring conversations. But more on that another time.)

GH: What is Innovation Nights?

BC: Innovation Nights are a monthly product showcase, launch party and networking events. Every month we help promote 10 (at least) new products using social media, our weekly newsletter and website. More than just a demo event and pitch night, we offer companies a way to get more visibility for their new products. (And you don’t have to be a startup – just have an innovative new product to launch. More established companies launch cool new products with us as well — IBM, LogMeIn and Progress Software come to mind.) Mass Innovation Nights guests include other entrepreneurs, investors, advisors, corporate and government attendees, service providers, job seekers and students/teachers.

We call Innovation Nights “social media powered” for a reason – we ask all our guests to help spread the word – “If you see something cool, blog about it, Tweet it, Like it, post a video or picture, or just tell someone.” We have launched more than 900 new products which have collectively received more than $1.3 billion in funding…all on a shoestring budget.

GH: How can Boston startups benefit from what you do?

BC: Rarely do startups have enough money to support the marketing budgets and product launch events they would like — even big companies have this issue. But in Boston, we have a great supportive community that can help get the word out about your new product…for free.

While most people look at Innovation Nights as an event, it’s really a month long marketing program. Yes, the event is nice and you might connect with customers, partners, funding, etc. but there is so much more.
You submit your product through our website and get assigned to an event – eventually.  It’s so popular that we have a sizable waiting list. Once the previous event is over, we move right on to the next group of launching products — and promote them for a month leading up to the live event.  MIN is a collective — all of the companies, sponsors, experts and our “Gaggle” of supporters promote the event and cross promote each other.
It’s also a thinly disguised Search Engine Optimization strategy.  Our website, the newsletter, the social media, all drive traffic to the startups.  We also create valuable “inbound links” which help a website get found when someone searches for them. Meanwhile, even if you are not exhibiting, you can come to the event for free and mingle with a bunch of really useful people.

GH: What have you learned from Boston area startups?

BC: I learn something new almost every day.  I hear dozens of pitches every week and I feel a little more comfortable today than I did 8 years ago in foreseeing which startups might survive and thrive.  A lot comes down to the people involved. I look at the team and I’ve learned to listen to my gut instinct more.  If I feel uneasy about something, there’s likely a reason.

GH: What are some of the best resources the Boston ecosystem has to offer in your opinion?

BC: I always point people to the awesome calendars of events like Greenhorn Connect. Need to learn something?  There’s probably a group that will teach you. Need to connect with someone?  There’s a networking event. We have everything you could possibly need.

GH: What is the Boston ecosystem lacking from your perspective?

BC: I think there isn’t enough focus on sales.  We have lots of support systems for technical, marketing, and even product -oriented people but not as much on sales. I think the food entrepreneurship arena is underserviced but that’s more a function of the thin margins than anything else.  I also think that there is an embarrassment of riches in Boston and Cambridge but once you step away from the red line, it gets harder to find events and mentors and other resources, never mind out beyond 495 – there be dragons… We need to look at the state as a whole, and also see how we fit into global marketplace.  We’re really good at talking to each other but I think we often miss out on conversations happening in the world outside Massachusetts.

GH: What is the best/worst advice you were given along the way?

BC: I had one boss long ago who spent a lot of time on getting me to try to fit in. In one respect, that’s great. You need to be able to work well with a team but in other respects, I think all organizations need more people who are a little “out there” and who take different approaches to things.

GH: What was the best thing that happened to you last year?

BC: It’s more at a personal level — my older son took a gap year and ended up working for me. As my husband had been the stay-at-home partner, this past year allowed me to spend much more time with my son than I had previously.  He’s off at college now but it was nice to have the quality time with him…and I hope I was able to influence him a bit.  He’s shifted his focus.  Instead of theater arts, he’s now majoring in the Business of Creative Enterprise, basically entrepreneurship for the arts.

GH: What does the future hold for the Boston innovation economy?

BC: Hard to guess but I would say we’ll continue the “let’s move everyone into the urban center” until the rents get so high that we find companies moving back out of the city.  Who wants to pay $70/sf when you can get a great place out on 128/95 or 495 for far less. And not spend 2-4 hours of your day commuting. In the 30 years I have lived and worked in the Boston region, I’ve seen this cycle before.  Rents and public transportation are the (opposing) driving forces.

GH: What does the future hold for Innovation Nights? 

BC: We are currently working on expanding Innovation Nights into other cities.  If we have Innovation Nights happening in 10 cities and each city has 10 products, we’ll end up with 100 new products on the website every month.  That becomes its own destination – people will come looking for exciting new products and we cease to be “just” a local showcase event.  As it is, we have website traffic from all over, people looking at the products,whether investors or just someone looking to buy a cool gift.

Check out Innovation Nights’ new upcoming event here.

Learn More about Innovation Nights at mass.innovationnights.com

Share This